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Schembechler, despite the conservative approach he learned as a player and assistant coach under Woody Hayes, knows at least as much about offense as A&M Coach Emory Bellard, co-inventor of the wishbone. Michigan led the nation in scoring last year with its I formation and Leach threw 13 touchdown passes, tying the school single-season record. In fact, going into the A&M game, the Wolverines had scored at least six points in 109 straight games, dating back to two seasons before Schembechler arrived. But this season the offense had been sputtering.
Still, the two schools, which had not met since 1970 when Michigan beat A&M 14-10, seemed to match up fairly well. Leach versus Walker, both lefties, both experts at the option. Wolverine Tailback Harlan Huckleby, a speedster averaging 114.3 yards per game to rival Dickey's 108.3. Fullback Russell Davis, averaging 5.3 yards a carry to Woodard's 4.9. But A&M had a vast edge in place-kicking with Franklin.
"We can't play A&M even and win, because of their kicker," Schembechler said. "We've got to be superior. You don't get returns and you don't get field position. He's the greatest kicker in football." Schembechler so feared Franklin's bare right foot that even though Michigan won the pregame coin flip, it elected to kick off.
"I had been thinking about that all week," said Schembechler. "I didn't want to receive the ball and have that guy kick it into the end zone with no return. Then we're at the 20 and if we don't move the ball we punt and they get it at midfield. Then they get three points. I've got confidence in my offense, but on a wet, windy day I think this was the right move."
In retrospect, Schembechler's analysis is hard to fault, but in the first period there were those who wondered if Michigan was ever going to want the ball this day. With the wind at his back, Leach constantly was overthrowing his receivers in the first quarter and the Wolverine running backs weren't going anywhere against the rugged A&M line.
But for those who appreciate the finer points of football—like barefooted field-goal kicking, Woody Hayes-like tantrums directed at the officials, fumbles perfectly timed to heighten the drama—the game was a joy. Mind you, these two teams still can't play giveaway with the likes of Oklahoma, but their fumble coordinators should be congratulated nevertheless.
In Michigan's second series, Huckleby took a pitchout right and made four yards. Michigan was called for holding, and Schembechler blew his top, leading to a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The combined penalties cost the Wolverines 27 yards, putting them back on their 11. Schembechler said later that the official had refused to tell him what the penalty was for, and that's why he lost his temper. After the Duke game two weeks before, he had accused the Big Ten officials of standing around "like goons" while the Atlantic Coast Conference officials robbed his team. For that, Schembechler had been reprimanded by Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke.
Late in the first quarter a fumble by Michigan's Davis on his own 27 led to A&M's only score. The Aggies had a fourth and one on the Michigan seven and decided not to go for the first down, even with Woodard. In went Franklin, the only kicker A&M has ever recruited, the man who once kicked a 65-yard field goal, the man who kicks 225 field goals a week in three days of practice. He calmly booted—er, footed—a 24-yarder to give A&M a 3-0 lead. It was his last chance to show his stuff because after that the Aggies only twice had the ball in Michigan territory.
In the second quarter Davis fumbled once again, on his own 36, but a few plays later Walker made a bad pitchout, Michigan's Ron Simpkins recovered at his own 19 and Leach led the Wolverines on an 81-yard march, helped along by two face-mask penalties. Davis took the occasion to redeem himself for his earlier fumbles, capping the drive with a four-yard scoring run. Gregg Willner added the extra point, and Michigan led 7-3 at the half.
During the intermission Woodard's 23 first-half line plunges drew as much comment from press-box wits as Leach's futile but persistent passing.